Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Reading About Evolution While Listening to Lou Reed

Reading About Evolution While
Listening to Lou Reed
© 2006 Jon Trott

Ten billion years, give or take a few million or so
It took a good God’s patience to let things die and grow
I feel her arms around me, I kiss her lips so warm
And every bit of dust of me yearns for more

Up through primordial gasses came red-hot rock
Poured forth to make a mountain before there was a clock
And I feel the prayers within my heart rise with tears
I believe and cling to Christ through my half-gone years

DNA keeps spiraling; one cell to Abraham Lincoln
Animals and plants just live; humans can’t stop thinkin
And feeling and dreaming and loving themselves
Even though they don’t know who they are as well

Lou Reed and New York and significance found
Out to be non-reality unless the evolutionary ground
Is something more than less, ends in God and tenderness
Rather than nihilistic suck downward back, back… into dust.

And I feel the prayers within my heart rise with tears
I believe and cling to Christ through my half-gone years…
Everything that rises must converge.
Everything that rises must converge.

[Apologies to Charles Darwin, Tielhard de Chardin, Flannery O'Connor, and of course Lou Reed]

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

CBE (Christians for Biblical Equality) starts bloggin'

Just a quick thumbs-up to my good friends and compatriots at Christians for Biblical Equality. They've got their first "official" blog, The Scroll, and the issues of women's equality, mutuality in marriage and Church, and worldwide injustices against women are all dealt with there. As far as CBE itself, consider joining, or even getting your fellowship to join... they live a very frugal ministerial life, often staffed by college students and working out of one of the few offices even smaller than ours at Jesus People USA / Cornerstone Festival. Oh, and did I mention that CBE also has a Fest '06 page dedicated to the CBE / JPUSA sponsored "Gender Revolution" tent at the festival?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Dogmatics of Love

Dogmatics of Love

The razor of my circumstance
In the hands of change and time
Cuts either way – to kill or enhance
Pilgrim’s love or soldier’s crime
The slip-slide of existence
Dictates to my self constructions
The fear of death’s persistence
Life comes with no instructions

Dogmatics of Love
I want to hold you until I burn
Dogmatics of Love
I want to give away, to discern
Dogmatics of Love
To crush no one, to love you true
To hurt no one, to say what I do

Anxiety of self-construction
My Hero Me a project failing
I make your name curse – reduction
Worship you with sentiment flailing
Lip service snarls when love requires
More than the usual rhetoric
Tiny tongue sets such forest fires
While what I do makes me sick

Dogmatics of Love
I want to hold you until I burn
Dogmatics of Love
I want to give away, to discern
Dogmatics of Love
To crush no one, to love you true
To hurt no one, to say what I do
Why’s it so damn hard
To love them, God to love you?

A little child shall lead them
But what about corrupted men like me?
Is my love spit, my faith phlegm
Floating on the violent sea
I fly up against you, hungry and mean
I try to die, but can’t let it go
And at last I despair, I’ve seen
I am far more than what I know

Dogmatics of Love
I want to hold you until I burn
Dogmatics of Love

I say save me, but I won’t let go
I say save me, but I won’t let go…
Let go!

Jesus is a curse word, Jesus is my life
Jesus is a curse word, Jesus is my life
You’ve forgiven me, but I need to see
How to live, and love, in this short life

Dogmatics of Love
I want to hold you until I burn
Dogmatics of Love
I want to hold you until I burn…
I’m letting go.
Come on, Come on, Come in.
In love. In love. In love. In love.
I want to hold you until I --

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Thank God! CPT Hostages Freed in Iraq

The Christian Peacemaker Team members taken prisoner have been freed! This came as the result of a military operation by British and US forces. No shots were fired, and no one was hurt or killed, as the CPT members' captors apparently fled the scene. Briton Norman Kember, 74 and Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, had their hands tied but were in otherwise fairly good condition.

One other CPT member, 54 yr old Tom Fox, was found murdered in Baghdad March 9, after the four were kidnapped November 26, 2005.

Even those of us who do not totally share in the pacifist views of many CPT folk do agree with them about the immorality and foolishness of this present war, and we are deeply grateful for their witness. And we celebrate the three men's freedom, even as we mourn the martyr Tom Fox.

For more on this story, see:
The CPT website

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Accusations of "goddess worship" by biblical egalitarians? Yeah, Right!

When it comes to women's issues, I guess you could say I'm a little bit Pavlovian. The reasons for this have become clearer to me as time passes. In shorthand, as an American white male, I somehow got the idea that I was priviledged. Call it a cultural virus. And as the layers of this misperception have slowly been peeled back (always to expose another layer, alas) I find myself less and less patient with myself, sometimes to the point of despair. And then I repent... take a breath... start again. So take the below with that in mind.

Bad doctrine can, and often does, come from those claiming to protect Christians from "liberal" and/or "feminist" interpretations of Scripture. For instance, in an article attacking Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), of which my wife and I are members and for which we are occasional speakers, Mimi Haddad (CBE's president) is accused of having taught "goddess worship" at Cornerstone Festival. As one of the speaker coordinators for that festival, I booked Mimi, proudly I might add, for Cornerstone. Further, Jesus People USA (the inner-city intentional community of which I am a part) co-sponsors with CBE a "Gender Revolution" Tent at our Cornerstone Festival each summer. So if Mimi's teaching goddess worship to our attendees, I'm also to blame.

The fact Mimi has not and never has taught such things did not stop Ms. Dwayna Litz from making such accusations against Mimi, CBE, and (by extension) myself:

"He is a Spirit with a male gender, and that is perfectly fine and non-offensive to any redeemed, wretched sinner at the foot of the cross! And woe to the people who are trying to rename him."
Really? God has a male gender? Does he have a penis? Does he have testosterone? Scripture itself teaches that God is not mortal, that he does not have flesh. God certainly does NOT have a male, or female, gender. The statement "He is a Spirit with a male gender" is self-refuting, since by definition God is beyond biology -- he invented biology but is outside of it, just as he is outside all creation even though also nearer to us than we are to ourselves. One could argue that Jesus had maleness, which of course was true while he was here on earth. But we are talking about God the Father here...

In short, it is a grave error to think God is gendered at all. "God is not a human being ['man' in KJV], that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind." (Num 23:19, NRSV)

Genesis records that God created humankind thusly:

Gen 1:26 Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth."Gen 1:27 So God
created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. [NRSV]
Note that God speaks of Himself in the plural. This verse, along with many others, is often cited by Trinitarians wanting to establish the "three Persons" aspect of the Godhead. In the next verse, God creates humankind "in his image" -- and "male and female he created them."

The lovely interblending of so many deep threads of meaning can hardly be touched here. But just to note the sociological significance of male and female being equal as the members of the Godhead are, or to note that by inference it is easy to find that if God made male and female in his image, then both male and female in some sense exist in Him... is this going too far? I think not. So though God is not "gendered" (as in being male), there is a very deep, and not wholly transparent to us, sense that He contains aspects of both the masculine and feminine in His Being.

But back Ms. Litz's defense of orthodoxy from the heretics (as opposed, I suppose, to himetics?):

"Mimi Haddad, the president of Christians for Biblical Equality (claiming to be an evangelical organization) spoke at Cornerstone, an annual arts festival attended by thousands of evangelical youth, on the feminine images of God. In her lecture she taught that God could be called 'Mother' as well as 'Father.'"
Hmm. Well, how about the bible's own words?

Isa 66:13 "As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem."

And as an Australian Christian comments:

"What needs to be brought back into focus is that the Bible presents both paternal and maternal images of God. For example, God is portrayed as a mother who nurses and comforts us (Isaiah 66: 12-13). God is likened to a midwife (Psalm 22:9), and as a seamstress (Luke 12: 27-28). God's wisdom is characterised as a woman (Proverbs 8). The imagery of a female eagle is employed to show God's tender support for us (Deut. 32: 11), and similar bird-like imagery is employed in Psalm 91 with us sheltering under God's wings. In the New
Testament Jesus likens his concern to that of a mother hen gathering in her chicks (Matthew 23: 37).

"In Church history some leading figures, male and female, have not hesitated to refer to the motherhood of God. Such figures
include John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, Venerable Bede, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Bernard of Clairvaux, Hildegard of Bingen and Anselm. Even the Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, in his commentary on Genesis, spent time discussing the feminine images undergirding the Hebrew language used there. As God is a Spirit, both masculine and feminine elements are found. This does not mean that the Bible sets forth an androgynous deity. The creation narrative avers that in God's image both male and female are created (Genesis 1: 27), so that the two genders are equal reflections of the creator."

So much for Christian worldviews allegedly being "defended" by the champions of orthodoxy. I remember when Jim Sire's book, The Universe Next Door, introduced that concept to me. I found it quite handy, "it" being the idea that we each have a set of beliefs both examined and unexamined which constitute a "worldview" or way of seeing the world.

But worldview apologetics have fallen on hard times. For one thing, it has
increasingly become evident that worldviews are just what they sound like -- constructions. And for another thing, it is painfully evident that anyone who wants to can construct their own version of a "Christian worldview" and slap it in the faces of those they happen to disagree with. Never mind that these worldviews are all too often terribly short of intellectual or biblical content, or (even worse) that they invariably major on cultural misinterpretations of Scripture.

The 1970s era evangelical experiment with rationalism (which one could probably credit in significant ways to Francis Schaeffer) has been exposed along with rationalism itself by the post-moderns. Those, like me, who find existential difficulties with Schaeffer and his progeny also find difficulties with the culturally constructed, anti-female, anti-multicultural, and anti-human (ah, a bit of rant, Trott?) vibrations continually emanating from this structurally rigid and intrinisically unstable edifice.

As Ms. Litz unintentionally illustrates:

"To the biblical feminists like Mimi Haddad: While you are busy renaming God as 'mother' and reinterpreting Scripture, why not rename and reinterpret yourself? Call yourself a goddess worshipper. But don't call yourself a Christian. Christians don’t call God 'mother.'"

The carelessness with which terms such as "goddess worship" are tossed about in this above example are only part of a larger carelessness of vocabulary the post-moderns ably critique. Language is used to belittle, demean, dechristianize, and in the end figuratively (or even literally) murder one's percieved opponents.

If the alternative is to worship the white male phallic deities so often offered to us via the Christless christendom currently so popular from White House to Focus on the Family... Dang if I don't think we could use a little goddess worship. More accurately, and with a little less irritation, I suggest that calling God both the Father who Begot us and the Mother who bore us is not inaccurate at all biblically. In fact, the Holy Spirit as Mother, God the Father, and Christ the Son can be viewed as the Divine Tri-Unity mirroring their collective image in us.

I don't find such ideas threatening, or new, or unorthodox. What I do find unorthodox, yet also not new, is the raging nonsensibility of those who continue to make of God an Imperialistic, Paternalistic, and actually quite arrogant deity far removed from the Merciful, Long-Suffering, and Holy (and Wholly) Other of Scripture.

A final note: calling God "Father" -- which Scripture does do the vast majority of the time -- has to me a very sensible, though sad, set of reasons behind it. God is indeed our Divine Parent. But on a planet where so much violence -- both individual and social, overt and hidden, criminal and culturally permitted -- faces all of us in varying degrees, a Father God powerfully appeals to our ideas of being protected as well as nurtured. I know I personally find tremendous comfort in praying the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father, who art in heaven..."

But praying to our Father does not, nor should it, negate God as Mother, the Spirit who births us, nurtures us with the milk of his/her merciful kindness, and yearns over us as a mother over her children. God is not a "neither/nor" but a "both/and".... He, God the Father, is also our Mother.

I can see nothing heretical at all in such an idea. And it frankly baffles me that others do. Sure, emphasize what Scripture emphasizes: God as Father. But do not forbid someone who is loved by a biblical God who has feminine attributes, lest the doctrinal error be yours rather than hers.

Okay, I've had my say. Now club me like a baby seal.

Suggested Reading:
Mimi Haddad's article on language and gender.
Rebecca Groothuis' short, pithy treatment of gender-inclusive bible translations.
Kevin Giles dismantles hierarchical belief regarding both members of the Trinity and male and female. (His book on this topic is incredible!)

Monday, March 20, 2006


As D. H. Lawrence once said that pornography does dirt to sex, I would say that predestination does dirt to God.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Peace of a Guilty Man

Lyrical moments come to me fairly often, but less often will I subject you to them. Hey, it is better than reading a blog on someone's pet cat.... I think.

The Peace of a Guilty Man
© 2006 Jon Trott

Dead beats dead and the iron sword
Falls upon the least of these
Wipe blood from blade, you heroes
Receive the reward, a leader’s pleased
As you do your damage worldwide
And I find my self involved with dread
You’re you I’m me and we profit
By the work you do over there making more

Dead dead dead dead dead dead and dying
Dead dead dead dead dead dead and dying

Bombs beat back the indigenous rage
But back it rushes to the new empty space
Head smacks bars of this spiritual cage
White dust settles on a young woman’s face
Her bloodless lips will never kiss his again
Her arms will not feel his body’s embrace
You’re you I’m me and we hang our heads
And every day there’s another case we must erase…

Dead dead dead...

I understand that might makes right; I’m bright
Enough to see the way this world works
Against the ones who hope for morning light
As opposed to the money grabbing lethal jerks
And down it tumbles, jumbles, rumbles – Night
Where the sound of guns or shaky last breath
Or soldier’s casual rape of a lover’s dear wife
Sucks the last bit of life and truth and hope from sight…

Dead dead dead...

All of us drunk, all suck this dark wine
Oh, Jesus, I wish I had Your hand in mine
But when I look at my own fingers I see blood
And over the land the sun sets like a sign
Red, red, and darkening into a sky-filled flood
Save me, Savior, a prayer I dare not decline
Forgive the murder in my name, make me brave
Enough to love and resist to the end of the line…

Dead dead dead... yet living.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Hostage Tom Fox, Christian Peacemaker Team member, Murdered

Tom Fox, member of the four-member group of CPTers kidnapped last year in Iraq, has been found murdered. According to the Iraq Interior Ministry, his body was found near a rail line, bound and with gunshots to his head and chest. The group who took him, I choose not to name out of my disrespect for them. Nonetheless, I also choose to try and hold onto what Tom himself once said:

"We reject violence to punish anyone. We ask that there be no retaliation on relatives or property. We forgive those who consider us their enemies. We hope that in loving both friends and enemies and by intervening nonviolently to aid those who are systematically oppressed, we can contribute in some small way to transforming this volatile situation.”

We mourn the loss of this brave, good man who was bearing witness to the love and power of Christ to reconcile humankind. Please do remember the Fox family, as well as the three other members of CPT still in captivity.

Tom Fox was a man who wanted peace in the middle-east and was willing to lay his life down as a peace offering. (This photo of him in Palestine, protesting the Israeli's dividing wall, underscores the Christian yearning for unity and community I find so refreshing in CPT's approach.) I honestly doubt he thought it would actually lead to his kidnapping and death, but he did know such a risk existed. And yet he dared to do it. Despite the ignorant comments from right-wing hacks such as Rush Limbaugh (who now got his wish, apparently) the peace tradition of Martin Luther King, Ghandi, and so many in South Africa during that nation's apartheid era is a tradition both noble and effective.

For more information, the CPT website offers latest news as well as more on their mission. And I'm glad to report that Cliff Kindy of CPT will be at Cornerstone Festival this year, speaking on Iraq, peacekeeping, and how the faith we say we hold might impact this violent world...

[edited 2 times]

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Of God and Operating Systems: Is It All A Matter of Personal Opinion?

I am a Computer OS addict. That is, as an incredulous friend once said as he watched me install yet another flavor of Linux onto an old machine salvaged from a yard sale, “Trott, you’ve never met an operating system you didn’t like.”

Well, actually I don’t like Microsoft Windows – any variety of it – much. But I do like just about anything else. And I suppose why I don’t like “winduhs” has much to do with Bill Gates, the god of that particular universe. I much prefer the extreme opposite scenario, a more or less “godless” universe such as that of Linux, where the users are also programmers and the official source code is open to anyone with a good idea to contribute.

But this isn’t an anti-Microsoft riff. Frankly, I’m more self-analytical here, as I often am about deeper issues relating to my understanding of “best,” “good,” and “bad.”

I pondered this recently when brought face to face with the sad reality of OS/2 Warp’s having been abandoned by IBM, the company behind it, as of December 2006. I own a copy of Warp 4. And frankly, my installations of OS/2 Warp 4 were simply fun. I liked the vibe of the desktop, its minimalist, muscular, un-Microsoft feel. And I liked the way it integrated 16-bit Microsoft applications while also offering many native 32 bit OS/2 apps. I also liked the fact – very esoteric, this one – that I could install the open-source “X-window” system on top of OS/2 and run many X-window applications.

But when I say I “liked” OS/2 vs. “not liking” MS Windows, what do I mean?

First, I am asserting on one level nothing more than my own preferences. That is, there need be no “truth claims” accompanying my admiration of the OS/2 operating system. But why, then, do I find myself getting crusty about it when a Windows fan starts in about the hip Windows XP features, or how Microsoft Outlook 2003 filters spam so well? No, down deep I want to believe that my choice of operating systems is better than their choice. So I have my own narratives about Bill Gates being the Antichrist and Microsoft being virusware you pay for. (Of course, just because they’re a highly biased narrative doesn’t mean they’re not true!)

Second, my admiration of OS/2 may be at least in part (as it is with Linux) associated with the path less traveled, the rugged loner’s alternative way, the OS being an extension of who I imagine myself to be – one apart from the common herd. Sigh… if that is all that fuels my OS/2 and Linux fixations, well, Madison Avenue milks that secret heart dream of every person for all it is worth. And using Linux vs. Windows to do my emailing or writing with is hardly going to stop global warming or rescue AIDS-infected children.

Third, my admiration of OS/2 may be simply an historical accident. That is, I started using it right at the time that MS-Windows was at its “suckiest,” so to speak, and before Linux had emerged. Could this be compared to my “accidentally” becoming a Christian simply because I grew up in a sort of vaguely Christian nation? Or, perhaps a better analogy, could it be akin to the fact that I love the song “American Woman” by the Guess Who mainly because it was one of the first rock songs my then newly-teenaged ears heard? I still remember laying there in my bed, my brother across the room in his, and both of us jamming to the album. If it hadn’t been the Guess Who, but instead some other band, I likely wouldn’t resonate now to either the G. W. or “American Woman.” But it was, and I do. Obviously, Madison Avenue knows that “branding” us with a product from the earliest age is highly important; just seeing an old OS/2 ad makes me warm and fuzzy inside.

Forgive me for being obtuse about fairly simple matters. But this whole business of why we “like” (or even “love”) certain things, places, or persons is highly mysterious – Madison Avenue notwithstanding.

Some things, like Operating Systems, matter less than I’d like to think they do. Truth is, I usually run Microsoft Windows… because I have to in order to run other applications that are written only for that OS. And I get my work done. Not as pleasantly. Not as happily. And maybe with a sneaking, even paranoid, suspicion that Big Brother owns my desktop and is probably snooping via the very networking software I paid for. But I get my work done.

Other things, like what I think about God, can matter greatly. Unfortunately, God can be like an OS. That is, I have my opinion.

Credit Gabriel Marcel for some of what follows, since he was the one who best articulated the difference between opinion and belief for me (see his Creative Fidelity and the chapter “From Opinion to Faith”). In fact, let me quote him right off the bat:

“…the memory of this inner crisis has not left me—in particular, the awareness of the unbridgeable gulf between opinion and faith… [I]t seems clear to me that certain developments in contemporary thought exhibit a tendency to confuse belief with opinion. To someone who does not share my belief, it in fact tends to appear as an opinion; through a commonly known optical illusion, I myself tend to consider it from the point of view of the other person, hence to treat it in turn as an opinion. Thus a strange, disturbing dualism is established within me; to the extent that I in fact live my belief, it is in no way an opinion; to the extent that I describe it to myself, I espouse the point of view of the person who represents it to his mind but does not live it; it then becomes external to me—and, to that degree, I cease to understand myself.”

Now note, Marcel is not saying that a belief is the same as truth. But he is saying that what I believe about something is different than having an opinion about that same thing. So, for instance, I could state that OS/2 is a better Operating System than Windows. But if I use Windows, almost exclusively, my alleged “belief” about OS/2 is revealed as mere opinion rather than belief. To prove at least some belief, I would have to make space on my hard drive(s) for OS/2, install it, and use it. Only the latter would make me an OS/2 user rather than a Windows user. There is also the possibility that I could do what is called “dual booting,” and have both Windows and OS/2 (or even Windows, OS/2, and Linux!) on my hard drive, each in their own “logical” partition and available to me as a choice when I restart the machine… this sort of double-mindedness is perhaps a form of half-belief, or even unbelief in the entire “there’s a best or worst OS” project, a sort of pragmatic approach used by the OS skeptic who wants to cover all bases. This is reminiscent, say, of the barber who tells his evangelistic customer, “There’s two things we never discuss here: politics and religion.” The barber is, in the negative sense, disinterested in opinion or belief. The parallel would be a religionist who says, “Basically, all religions teach the same things.” As G. K. Chesterton, or perhaps C. S. Lewis, said somewhere, “The person who believes everything believes nothing at all.”

But the strongly opinionated OS/2 fan who nonetheless uses Windows most of the time might do well to take note of Marcel’s observation regarding opinion: “Opinion tends to behave like an autonomous organism which admits into itself whatever is able to strengthen it and which avoids whatever threatens to weaken it.” Marcel then goes to wonderful lengths to show just how – my word – vacuous most opinion really is, how little rooted in any sort of solidity or reality.

For instance, the skeptic might say to the OS/2 lover, “Do you realize that Microsoft worked with IBM to design OS/2? The company you’re vilifying is the same company that basically designed much of the OS/2 system you tout!” The true OS/2 lover’s eyes glaze over as he quickly moves the conversation to some other ground.

But Marcel is after something in his discussion of faith vs. opinion. What he is after, as an existentialist, is the “I” of belief vs. the non-I of opinion. What do I mean by that? Marcel sees belief as being about experience – the “I” encountering a “thou” or even a “Thou.” Opinion is not an encounter, but rather an assertion. “I maintain that Jesus rose from the dead.” Or, in our discussion, “I maintain that OS/2 is a better OS than Windows.”

Marcel can’t be blamed for what I’m doing here, by the way… neither, for that matter, can Bill Gates or IBM.

If I believe in OS/2, I speak from my experience of it and in it and using it. And, as Marcel notes, even then we may discover our belief has been vain. Again, belief is not truth, but it is at least authentically coming from a human being vs. opinion which is usually badly digested and unsupported drivel merely repeated from one person to the next. And even when opinion is apparently better formed, there is the unsettling vibration of it being externalized. It is an “it,” a “conviction,” an editorial.

Marcel takes this to a human level. And for a moment, let me also leave our Operating Systems behind. One of the most universal moments of belief vs. opinion is when someone believes someone else is worthy of being loved, or at least trusted. But when that individual breaks trust, or violates our bond of love, what then? Belief is proven to have been misplaced; we have to reconsider the investment of ourselves (yes, our “I”).

IBM settled with Microsoft in a lawsuit involving OS/2 and the messy breakup between the two companies over that venture. As soon as this was done, IBM (in June of 2005) announced that OS/2 support would be discontinued as of December 2006. So, in the end, it turns out our faith – our belief in OS/2 as the superior OS – may have been misplaced. It may be time to convert. Downloading SuSE Linux (or FreeBSD) may be another option to place our faith in. But after all… it is only an Operating System.

I find myself thinking again of God and OS/2… pondering my appreciation for both, my “opinion” that both are good. Yet, I must confess that though my appreciation for OS/2 is real, I do not have faith in it, or even much of an opinion in favor of it any longer. It has not as much betrayed me itself as has been betrayed by its maker. And despite some efforts by earnest users and fans, it appears very doubtful that IBM will release the code for OS/2 into the public domain, “open source” community.

What of my faith in God? Can He remain my personal Operating System, or rather Operating Anti-System, confounding all systems with his own nature which is Love?

It all depends, I suppose, on whether or not my “belief” is merely opinion or coming from within myself, my “I,” my own experience and acts. One thing is certain. He has always been faithful, his “I” evident as what is from the subjective reality which I inhabit.

As Marcel says:

“However strange it may seem to our minds, it is possible for there to be an unconditional love of creature for creature—a gift which will not be revoked. Whatever may occur, whatever disappointment experience inflicts upon our hypotheses, our cherished hopes, this love will remain constant, this credit intact. Perhaps it is on data of this sort that the philosopher should first base his meditations when he tries to reflect on the absolute; for the most part these data are hardly ever taken into account. Examples like these, however, involve an anomaly which somehow seems to be suspended in a reality frequently unperceived by those every souls in which it blossoms…”

Nor does Marcel stop there, but finishes the thought:

“The other boundary-case is this: love is faith itself, an invincible assurance based on Being itself. It is here and here alone that we reach not only an unconditioned fact but a rational unconditional as well; namely that of the absolute Thou, that which is expressed in the Fiat voluntas tua [Thy will be done] of the Lord’s Prayer.”

I do not think, nor did Marcel, that such ideas would “convince” people to embrace the Christian OS, er, faith. Convincing, after all, is more about opinions than personal investment into belief and action. As to whether, like a computer Operating System, belief in Christ is merely a matter of personal taste, I would answer in both an affirmative and negative sense.

Yes, it is a matter of personal choice. In fact, each moment of life is a choice, a decision waiting to be made. Will I make the non-decision, that is, to remain in the place where opinion (and thus my own personal lassitude and passivity) remain the prime wall against true movement? Will I rather make the decision against, to deny God (or even all/any gods)? Whatever I decide, or decide by not deciding (which is the same thing), it is indeed a matter of personal choice. But it is not an opinion.

No, it is not a matter of personal choice that doesn’t really matter. At least, in the same way that all Operating Systems on a computer will (more or less) let me do the same or similar things, and allow me to arrive at more or less the same place. Analogy does break down, usually sooner rather than later. “Good” applied to an operating system refers to something relative, whether or not we like to think so. “Good” applied to justice, love, empathy, being humane, and so on, is not a referent to something relative but something fixed, something there is all but universal agreement on.

Yet that said, we still have one problem. It is only an opinion. In order to make of “goodness” something more than an opinion, my “I” must BE good, or (more properly) exist within goodness, and goodness within it. Acts of goodness must emanate from it, from myself. And finally, as Kierkegaard, Marcel, St. Paul and many others ably show, goodness as we know it to be is not something found within my heart by default. God comes first, with his goodness in tow, to from within me become the un-Operating System which is agape love.

Or such is my opinion… dear God, give me faith.


A few links for OS/2-related stuff:

* A free download of a "live" CD from Serenity Software (I'm trying to talk them into sending me a review copy--I haven't given up completely on OS/2 yet!)
* The monster OS/2 freeware/shareware site, Hobbes.
* The OS/2 World site, for news and links.

A few links re Gabriel Marcel:

* The Gabriel Marcel Society (Info on Marcel's philosophy, music, plays, and more)
* A short biography
* Marcel plays on videotape (and CD, I think) at a few bucks a pop.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Due to Trolls....

I've had to turn on the "moderated comments" feature of this blog. That means you will not likely see your comment posted right away; I have to okay it first. I'm so sorry, but I have my first bona-fide troll and we mustn't feed the little blighter by allowing him further silliness here or on my other blogs (which also have now had the moderated comments feature activated.)

PLEASE do not allow this to stop you from commenting; I am not going to start deleting comments of anyone disagreeing with me, even vehemently, here. The posts I'm blocking are those that mention individuals who are defenseless to protect either themselves or their family from the troll's public abuse of their names.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Women's History Month

Time to celebrate! March is women's history month. I'd like to list a few women who've greatly influenced me in my ongoing journey to become more authentically human.

1. My wife, Carol Elaine. I'd have to write a volume or nothing.
2. My mother, Lucile Hanford Trott, a strong and intelligent woman who gave us poetry, flowers, and love.
3. Dawn Mortimer, Jesus People USA pastor and dear friend and co-worker who I've suffered with and caused suffering to over the years.
4. Toni Morrison, whose novels (particularly Song of Solomon and Beloved) become increasingly meaningful to me the older I get.
5. Andrea Dworkin. WHAT?! Yeah, yeah... I know. If you want to know why I include her, some clues exist on my other blog, Are Men Really Human?
6. My daughters, Tamzen and Tabitha. They're grown now, but their first years in which I was a single dad raising them changed me--my priorites and my loves--profoundly. At least, I hope so. I dare to hope they may have been better for having me as a dad, but the jury's still out on that one.
7. Dorothy Day. Hey, she lived communally, did journalism / writing, struggled (sometimes unsuccessfully) with purity, and made it her life's mission to serve the poor. Mother Teresa's amazing but Dorothy is accessible. (Try her autobiography The Long Loneliness...)
8. The many women in our Jesus People USA community who, through their lives of discipleship and service as they fully exercise their gifts, make my own life richer.
9. My Aunt Marian Long, who met Christ during the charismatic movement of the late '60s, and who helped spark a revival in the Highwoood, Montana area that influenced nearly my entire family as well as dozens of others who still walk with Christ today.
10. And last, but NOT least, Mimi Haddad, Chelsea Dearmond, and the rest of the folks at Christians for Biblical Equality (they've got a great book sale going on for this special month... and no, I don't get a cut!)

I know I'm missing folk... I may add more as the month continues. We'll see...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

“Love Yourself”: an Existential Meditation Inspired by Gabriel Marcel

“…to have a self, to be a self, is the greatest concession made to man, but at the same time it is eternity’s demand upon him.”
Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

This morning my dearling Carol read to me from a book by William Backus, Christian psychologist and faithful friend until his passing last year. The book’s title, Telling Yourself the Truth, promises a lot. Even though it is someone close who wrote it, I found myself skeptical as my wife began reading.

Backus’ thoughts suddenly intersected with thoughts of quite another stripe coming from writers he’d probably not have had much affinity with, but whom I’ve increasingly read as a starving man might wolf a loaf of freshly baked bread. These writers – Kierkegaard, Gabriel Marcel, Pascal, Walker Percy, Dostoevsky, Mauriac, even Dietrich Bonhoeffer – deal with self-anxiety (dread) in the only way that resonates for me truly. They are, to varying degrees, known as “existential” writers, though less often quoted as existentialists than are their non-christian counterparts, Jean Sarte, Jaspers, and such.

The point of intersection came as my wife read. To love yourself, Backus bluntly asserted, is a necessity, not a sin. He explores the Christian ideas on self-denial (which have real merit) and explodes the idea that self-denial and self-hatred are the same thing. As Carol read, I agreed heartily with what he was saying.

But my mind, the undisciplined thing, smelled a rabbit trail and before I could stop it was running down it. And I "heard" the words of Gabriel Marcel in particular...

It suddenly occurred to me that Backus was saying (or at least implying) that “Love yourself” is a command. And two thoughts arrested me at this.

First, before one can obey the command, one has to know what both words in it actually mean. And second, to obey a command is to recognize that the one issuing the command has authority to issue it.


I consider the first point central in my attraction to existential thought. (And remember, please, that my mind-heart is a very little dog functioning mostly on the level of tenacity rather than strength, and yip more than bite.) The issue of what “love” means is important enough… but before one can even get there, the topic of “self” must be settled.

Gabriel Marcel emphasizes that a self has, in a real “concrete” sense, two selves to cope with. There is the self that is, and the self that attempts to identify the self that is. My terms: a present self and a perceiving self. Marcel is said to have had folks hold their two hands out in front of themselves, and then had them “touch your hand.” Which hand is touching? And which is being touched? The issue quickly becomes ambiguous. Of course, the analogy being an analogy breaks down. Both hands are doing both, a wag might answer. Ah. But in the case of the self, is it that simple? Another way of seeing it is to look at one’s body as “myself” and yet “other.” It is my body, my self. And yet it is an object, a “thing” which I can tattoo or bathe or injure. When I love my body, am I loving myself? When we say we have a soul (providing we believe such a thing), is this “soul” also myself? Am I loving my soul, or spirit, when I love myself?

Marcel’s refusal to let things be reduced to the abstract is central in this thinking. As the coiner of the word “existential” to describe this way of seeing, Marcel called his own path the philosophy of the concrete. That is, a way that emphasized the reality of personal consciousness, and the anxiety produced by this personal consciousness, was to him and those like him the only place where philosophy could or would make any real difference. Of the self he wrote:

“If the self that I am is construed as a subject, a subjective reality, if the ‘I’ in ‘I exist’ is identified with this subjective reality, then the assertion cannot stand up under scrutiny. What justifies the assertion, the criteria of validity, cannot be determined. The assertion ‘I exist’ is valid only if it signifies, in an admittedly loose and inadequate way, an original datum which is not ‘I think’ nor even ‘I am alive,’ but rather ‘I experience,’ and this expression must be accepted in its maximal range of indefiniteness.” [Creative Fidelity, “Incarnate Being."]

Marcel’s answer in defining the self, I admit, is vague. This is annoying, but understandable, since he admitted early on that such answers are mysteries. But he doesn’t leave us in some sort of philosophical cul-de-sac. At least, I don’t think he does. Rather, he leaves us in a place where rationalism fails, as it most transparently has in our day though less so transparently in his. What is left is antinomy – apparent contradiction – and a conception of self that needs existence, that is, the world as it is, in order to be true (or rather, to truly be).


Where, then, is love left in this rather squishy (rationally speaking) conception of self? There are at least two conditions my small-dog mind-heart finds in Marcel that greatly help me in comprehending love, and self-love.

First, the problem of identifying the ‘I’ self is not unique to itself. That is, identifying the ‘thou’ self is also a search that cannot be answered with abstractions. It, too, needs the “concrete” treatment. Marcel speaks of objectifying the other by failing to existentially know him. The only way to make the unnamed other into a “thou” is in an act rather than abstractions:

“…[W]hat does it mean to say that the thou as such, is or is not, real? …. What is relevant rather, is the act by which I expose myself to the other person instead of protecting myself from him, which makes him penetrable for me at the same time as I become penetrable for him.” [Creative Fidelity, “Incarnate Being."]

Marcel understands that the self’s relating to this “thou” (as opposed to the rationalist “him” or unnamed other) is similar to how the ‘I’ must relate to self. In a real sense, then, loving one’s neighbor is not only similar to loving oneself… it actually overlaps with the latter.

“As to self-love, it is easy to discern the complete opposition which exists between an idolatrous love, a heauto [self]-centrism—and a charity toward oneself which, far from treating the self as a plenary reality sufficing to itself, considers it as a seed which must be cultivated, as a ground which must be readied for the spiritual or even for the divine in this world. To love oneself in this second sense is not the same as self-complacency, but is rather an attitude toward the self which permits its maximum development; it is clear that there is an infatuation which is in itself unfavorable to the development of any truly creative activity whatever; I do not limit myself in this context to artistic or scientific creation since I speak also of the radiance shed by any generous soul. On the other hand, it can be assumed that a harshness or an excessive malice towards oneself can also be paralyzing although for inverse reasons; hence there is need for patience towards oneself, a patience that may be reconciled with complete lucidity and which has been recommended by several teachers of the spiritual life, by a St. Francois de Sales, if I am not mistaken. However this is possible and meaningful only when the distance from and nearness to the self which define the act of charity, are realized in and relative to, oneself. In practice we usually sin because of our inability to see ourselves, or—less often if we have managed to reach such objectivity—through our failure to maintain that contact with ourselves that we should always have with our fellow-man.” [Creative Fidelity, “Incarnate Being."]

Living in an intentional community of Christians, I deeply feel this strange overlap between my own ‘self,’ the ‘thou’ selves of others, my temptation to make them into objects (the ‘him’ or even ‘it’). What Marcel is getting at is the need for me to cease the objectification of others, because as I objectify them, I also end up objectifying myself. There is, I most strongly suspect, an undeniably, indissoluble linkage between loving myself and loving my neighbor, yes, even loving my enemy. Each feeds into and is nurtured by its corollary; the two are often indistinguishable.

Marriage is a perfect existential referent here. I and my ‘thou’ – my wife – are one flesh. Yet I am myself, and she is herself. We are each to love our neighbor as ourselves. And as we love one another, we learn how to further love ourselves. As we love ourselves, we further learn to love our neighbor….


I believe that in Marcel’s formulation – if one can call an existential ‘concrete’ philosophy a formulation! – love’s definition becomes transparent. Like his mentor Francois Mauriac, Marcel never forced his Christian faith into what he was, or said, or wrote; it simply was there to be taken with the rest or dropped by the wayside.

But in his attempts to make of the self more than a proposition, an ‘it,’ he finds in Christianity the ultimate source:

“If what I have said is true, a philosophy of transcendence must never divorce itself even in principle from a type of reflection which is directed on the hierarchy of the various modes of adoration, culminating not in a theory, to be sure, but rather in an understanding of saintliness; a saintliness apprehended not as a way of being, but as something given in the purest form in its intention. The fact is that it is here and here alone that the problematic is overcome, and that in such a life the imminent presence of death is abolished in the fullness of being itself. The fact that this saintliness, realized in some individuals, in some witnesses spread out over the centuries, is not felt to be an unnatural and outrageous anomaly by a weak humanity; that it evokes certain echoes in our hearts, that it is for the indecisive mind a permanent stimulus to judge oneself and to hope—this certainly is the second datum which allows us to perceive in the saint—just as we perceive in the inspired creative individual on another level—the mediator of Him who no advance in technique, in knowledge or in what is called morality, will ever bring nearer to the individual who appeals to Him from the depths of his suffering.” [Creative Fidelity, “The Transcendent as Metaproblematic.”]

That last sentence, which echoes non-christian (to my knowledge) post-modern authors such as Richard Rorty, reverberates for me as one the identifying marks of a Christian. To the degree I fail at understanding suffering – both my own and others’ – I fail to allow He Who is Love to continue in the work of conforming my ‘I’ to His ‘I.’

[This is no completed set of thoughts, but rather very much a work in progress. Comments from my philosophical and existential elders are welcome, as are comments from anyone else.]

© 2006, By Jon Trott

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Some Good Political Advice

As a Christian, it cheers me to see themes of commonality in other religions' writings. The following comes from Islam, and is good advice to politicians of all stripes and cultures today:

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once told a newly-appointed government official: "Fear the cry of the oppressed, for there is no barrier between it and God."

Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 3, Number 1

Which can you name? Simpsons thump First Amendment

Okay, can you name all five "freedoms" of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States?

Think about it. Think some more. I really hope you did better than I did... I got three of five. Even that paltry score was better than most; only 1 out of 5 Americans could name more than one. And get this. Only ONE out of a thousand Americans could name all five. For comparison, the McCormick Tribune Freedom Foundation found, better than 1 of 5 Americans could name all five family members in the Simpsons television cartoon.

Sheesh, talk about embarrassed. At least I flunked that test, too... I know Homer, Bart, and that's about it.

Okay, have you fessed up to how many of the First Amendment freedoms you can name? Curious as to what they are? Here ya go....

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
— The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

In shorthand, that would be:
1. Freedom of religion.
2. Freedom of speech.
3. Freedom of the press.
4. Freedom to assemble.
5. Freedom to peacefully petition/protest.

(For more on this, see both the McCormick link above and the First Amendment Schools web pages.)